Peeps, I told you in Keys to Victory to buckle up for an old school, physical game. That's exactly what we got. But in the end, the Dawgs found a way to win. Give Arkansas credit, they came to play. Frankly, I think they'd win the SEC (l)East. Here's what I saw on Saturday night:
1. The Psycho Defense was magnificent. They strapped up their proverbial chin straps real tight for this game and got after it. Arkansas has the biggest OL in football and two potential NFL RBs. And the defense absolutely shut them down. The Hogs rushed for just 163 yards Saturday night on 38 attempts. They averaged just 4.3 YPC. And unless I'm forgetting one, they only had one rush of 20+, which was Alex Collins' rush of 42. Take out that play, and they rush for just 121 yards. Folks, you absolutely cannot play any better against Arkansas' rushing attack.
2. Arkansas ran 82 plays on offense and had the ball for 38:46. They threw it 44 times and rushed it 38. Why did they throw it so much? Because they couldn't run the ball, as I just pointed out above. They've only thrown the ball 40 or more times twice this season, against Bama and Georgia. We forced them out of what they wanted to do. And what impressed me was we did it with a defense that was on the field for nearly 2/3 of the game. Typically, that is wayyyyyy too long, and I don't want to see that happen again. But for all the griping about 1A and 1B on defense, this game proved beyond all doubt it's working. Very few other teams are going to stay in, much less win, a game when their D is on the field that much.
3. Stat of the game for me, thanks to Matt Wyatt: Arkansas was in the redzone 5 times. They got one touchdown on those 5 trips. And that TD was when they started their drive at our 25 after a turnover. When they had to drive the field to score, they couldn't do it. Unreal.
4. Another Key to Victory we executed well: Limiting big plays. I don't remember more than about 3-4 plays of 20+ for Arkansas all night. They had to earn every yard.
5. I also thought we tackled extremely well. Let's be honest, Collins and Jonathan Williams are ridiculous. They're going to break some tackles and get YAC. But for the most part, we did a good job of wrapping up and limiting them to gains of 4 or fewer yards instead of missing the tackle and letting them go for 8. That made a huge difference.
6. Our front 7 continues to be the best in the nation. Go back and look at the Hogs' rushing stats I provided in point 1. Unreal.
7. Matt Wells gets a helmet sticker from me. He was everywhere and led the D in tackles with 9 and one TFL. We normally think of him as a hybrid LB who's primarily used in space as a coverage guy. And he excels in that role. But on a night when it was about being physical and stopping an offense that loves big, tight formations, he was all over the place. And if it weren't for his speed, Collins probably goes for a TD on his 42 yard run. Wells was the guy who chased him down. Cheetah, indeed.
8. Beni Brown continues to be one of the best young LBs in the SEC that no one is talking about. He added another 6 tackles on Saturday night. His football IQ and play recognition are crazy. And he brings the lumber when he gets to the football while still remaining fundamentally sound. You just don't see very many guys break the tackle once Beni gets his paws on them. He could be the next MSU LB in line for a serious payday after B-Mack and Wells in another year.
9. Kendrick Market isn't flashy and no one talks about him, but all he does is quietly make play after play. He tied Beni with 6 tackles against the Hogs, including a 1/2 TFL.
10. On Friday, I said keep an eye on Nick James. I had a feeling he was a sleeper to have a huge game against a team that loves to run. And peeps, I was right. If you're looking for it on the stat sheet, don't bother. He wound up with just 2 assisted tackles. No, he's someone who's value is found when you actually watch the game and him specifically. The guy was a beast. He absolutely blew up the interior of Arkansas' OL when he was in the game, routinely driving their guards, or center, and sometimes both, 2-3 yards into the backfield. They tried to double him some. It didn't matter. He gobbled up those guys and freed up players like Wells, Beni, etc. to make plays. It was so much fun to watch.
11. Chris Jones was a monster. Like James, it wasn't a huge statistical night. 4 total tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 2 QBH. But like James, he was having a major impact. When he was in the interior, Arkansas needed to double him. And when we put him at DE against another Super Sophomore in Arkansas LT Dan Skipper, he obliterated him. Those two guys will both be playing in the NFL very soon, but on this night, CJ made Skipper look bad. After being beaten for a sack then a QBH on consecutive plays early in Arkansas' final possession, Skipper absolutely mugged CJ the rest of the drive. Some of the most blantant holding I've seen. And to be clear, I'm not complaining. That's football, and it was the only way skipper was stopping CJ. That's a complement to CJ, so far as I'm concerned.
12. I'm ready to officially say it: Will Redmond has become our best CB. He's finally getting the production to go with his talent. Not only is he fast, he's physical. We'll still need to give him safety help against Amari Cooper in two weeks, but that's because I don't think there's anyone in college football capable of covering Cooper one-on-one. But Redmond was awesome last night. He finished with 5 total tackles, 1 QBH, and 1 INT. As we all know, his INT sealed the W. But how he did it was what impressed me. He got inside position then simply out-fought the UPig WR for the ball. Beautiful.
13. I could probably point out plenty of other guys defensively who deserve individual recognition, but for the sake of keeping this a semi-reasonable length, I'll stop.
14. The one negative on D was how open we let Hunter Henry get at times. He's literally the one guy in UPig's passing attack that you have to cover. But to be fair, he's arguably the best TE in the SEC and will probably play in the NFL. There were times where we had him covered and he just made the play anyway. In the end, I'd call it a wash. I'm surprised he wasn't the guy UPig went to on the goal line on the final play, though.
15. Our goal line stand in the 4th was spectacular. UPig had the ball for 4 plays from the 2 or inside the 2. The drive ended on the 3. The front 7 absolutely STONED UPig's mammoth OL and RBs. And just when one unit was gassed after 3 hard plays, we ran on a whole new DL. Hogs never had a chance, lose a yard, Dawgs get the ball. Game essentially over at that point.
1. Let's just get it out of the way: I'm glad the Jamoral Graham experiment at PR is over. He looked very good at first, but seemed to regress every week. We really, really need a true ST coach on staff. I don't care what has to happen in the offseason to make it so, but it MUST get done. Graham's fumbled punt set up UPig's only TD of the day. They might not even get a TD were it not for that play. You know it's bad when our crowd is cheering Fred Ross just for fielding it cleanly. Now we'll see how long it takes Ross to start looking worse back there with more ST "coaching."
2. Logan Cooke had another solid night on KO. Just one touchback, as we went back to the strategy of hanging it high and attempting to tackle the KOR short of the 25. I personally disagree with the strategy, as I want to eliminate all chance of a big return. And I'm willing to trade 5 yards of field position to do so. But Mullen isn't willing to make that trade, and to be completely fair, we do seem to make it work out most of the time.
3. Nice to see Devon Bell back in action. He had a good night punting, including a key bomb of about 50+ yards at one point to help flip the field.
4. Evan Sobiesk should have been kicking from 45 and in all season. Sure's he's been a little bit of a head case and inaccurate at times. I could say that for the majority of kickers. But he NAILED the kick from 37 last night. I know it only tied the game, but that was when I became certain we'd win. It was clutch, and Evan came through. It had plenty of leg, too. Just let the guy kick, Dan. No more "musical kickers." There's a reason no other coach in football rotates kickers or runs them out there based on "gut feel" or whatever.
1. Offense got off to another very, very slow start. That was disappointing to say the least. But once they got going, they looked pretty good.
2. Arkansas made the decision they weren't going to let us beat them running. They kept 8 men in the box most of the night and forced Dak Prescott to beat them with his arm. He did just that. Our run/pass ratio was easily the lowest of the season at 56/44 with 35 rushes to 27 passes. Credit Arkansas for putting together a solid gameplan and forcing us to throw.
3. Dak finished the night 18/27 for 331 yards, a career high and his first 300 yard passing game. He also had 63 yards rushing. That said, the INTs continue to concern me. He threw 2 more Saturday night, making it three games in a row with 2 picks. The first one was forced into double coverage and thrown right to the DB. Even worse, there was literally no one open on that play. Either run it or get out of the pocket and throw it away in that situation. Just don't force it. The second INT, Dak didn't account for a LB dropping into coverage. He read Dak's eyes, then broke on the ball for a nice INT. I don't know what Dak's problem is lately, but he needs to figure it out quickly. Giving away 2 INTs in Tuscaloosa will turn a W into an L.
That said, Dak showed serious mental toughness to shake off the picks and keep making throws. He stood in there and threw darts most of the night. I also think Dak made himself some extra money the last two weeks by showcasing some SERIOUS arm strength. He's got an absolute cannon. His long completion to Fred Brown was a tough throw, and he delivered a dime. Then on what proved to be the game winning TD pass to the other Fred, he jumped, flicked his wrist, and threw it about 35 yards on a rope. Peeps, there aren't many QBs on the planet with that kind of arm strength. And maybe more impressive was keeping that pass inbounds and not leading Ross too far to the outside. Moving to the left, it's easy for a QB to let the ball keep drifting the direction your momentum is carrying you. Now let's hope we see Dak for about 3 series next week, just long enough to get up about 21-0. Then let it be the Damian Williams Show. Get Dak some rest for Bama in 2 weeks - the game to decide the SEC West.
4. Offense had the ball just 21:14 last night. Some of that was self-inflicted with 3 turnovers. Two drives ended with the Dak INTs and offense never got the ball after Graham's fumble. And we had what was effectively another turnover in the 3rd quarter when Dak failed to convert a 4th down play. So basically, in just 21 minutes of possession, we gave away 4 possessions to an Arkansas team that absolutely chews up the clock. That's bad.
But here's the positive: Despite those 4 possessions, offense was relatively efficient. We scored 17 unanswered. When we didn't turn the ball over, the Hogs had trouble slowing us down. We moved the football well but we just couldn't get out of our own way at times. I think the most telling offensive stat is actually our 3rd Conversion Percentage. We converted 8 of 14 3rd downs, good for a 57% clip. So when we weren't giving away the ball, we did a good job of converting and staying on the field.
5. Our 5 wide set continues to be incredibly dangerous. Even with Dak a bit gimpy, the threat it poses to defenses is sick. The TD pass to Ross was a product of this set. UPig actually had him covered pretty well initially. But then Dak rolled to his left and began to press the line of scrimmage. UPig's CB thought he had safety help over the top of Ross, so he breaks up to come tackle Dak. The Hog S thought the CB would stay with Ross, so he also broke up to come tackle Dak. Result: WIDE OPEN Fred Ross, sick Dak pass, Fred Ross TD, Dawgs lead.
6. It was a tough day rushing for the J-Beast. He finished with just 73 yards on 19 carries and only 3.4 YPC. He came in averaging 126 YPG and nearly 8 YPC. But he did get a rushing TD. Maybe more crucial was how important he was to the passing game. J-Beast was the leading receiver Saturday night, with 6 catches for 110. He made one of the most insane grabs you'll see late in the 1st quarter, a one-handed grab for 47 yards. There were a couple of times where the last guy who could trip him up did, or he'd have gotten a couple more TDs.
But what really impressed me weren't the times when he had the ball. It was when he didn't have the ball. He gave full effort on play fakes. But most importantly, he was very good in pass pro. I saw him pick up a blitzing Hog at least 3-4 times to keep Dak from taking a hit and give him extra time to make a throw. He gave up his body and protected his QB. That's one of those things scouts will see that makes him money. Maybe not the most appropriate comparison right now, but I see a lot of Ray Rice in J-Beast in terms of his skill set.
7. Our OL had a good night. As I said, UPig made the decision they were going to stop the run at all costs. That led to us throwing more often than we would normally like to throw. While 27 attempts isn't a big number of attempts, it is when you only ran 62 offensive plays all night. And while our OL is decent at pass pro, run blocking is definitely their strength. That said, they did a tremendous job in pass pro Saturday night. Dak was never sacked. And most of the time, he had plenty of time to go through his progressions and make the throw. I don't remember him taking very many shots at all, honestly. Good job by those guys to step it up on a night when the opponent forced them into doing some things they aren't as comfortable doing.
8. Bear Wilson had another off night. He made a bad mistake by lining up offsides at one point, which should NEVER happen as a WR. The ref is right there to tell you whether or not you're on the LOS. But he made up for it with a nice catch on the slant to get the yards back and then some.
9. MoJo had a good night. I was happy to see us get him involved in the passing game again. His two catches were very nice and both went for 20+ yards. He's a mismatch I wish we'd exploit more often.
10. I've already mentioned him several times, but Fred Ross showed out. He stepped up on a night when most of our other receiving options were being taken away. He finished second to J-Beast with 4 catches for 91 yards, including the game winning TD. He showed why we wanted him so badly out of Texas. He's smooth and has very good ball skills to go with good speed. It's the total package. He's going to be a big part of our offense at some point. And as a bonus, he looked pretty smooth fielding punts.
11. Not much more to say about the offense. That's what happens when the opponent has the ball essentially 2/3 of the game and you gave away 4 possessions on top of it. Still, there were plenty of offensive positives.
1. I wish we had run the ball more, but I understand why we didn't. You have to give some credit to Arkansas for that. Mullen did a nice job of finding ways to make up for it in the passing game.
2. Loved the screen call to J-Beast late in the game. UPig had been crashing their DEs all night, so we used it against them. Heckuva call by Mullen that wound up being a big play in the game.
3. Gotta credit Arkansas for doing a good job taking away most of our usual playmakers. Gabe Myles had just 1 target all night. Bear had just 2 catches. Tubby Lewis had just 1 catch very early and clearly still isn't ready to go. I know he wants to play, but he needs to sit. But on the positive side, other guys like Fred Ross stepped up. It's kinda ridiculous how many weapons this offense has.
4. I've seen lots of chatter about us playing poorly Saturday night. I have a different take: It was two good football teams playing a game of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. We certainly didn't play our best offensively. I'd be crazy to say otherwise. But we didn't play that poorly, either. Especially when you factor in Dak being less than 100%. It's a team game, and as a team, we were pretty darn good Saturday night. It's hard to score 35+ points in the SEC every week. There's too many good defenses.
5. Allow me to talk about the Hogs a minute. That is a GOOD football team. As I said in my intro, I think they'd win the East. They're certainly a Top 25 caliber team. I don't care what their record says. Arkansas is where we've been the last few years: SEC West Hell. They're a good football team who's clearly improving. There's no way that team should be winless in the SEC. But the question they have is the same one we had: Who do you pass to move up? Us? Bama? Auburn? LSU? aTm? TSUN? It's going to take time for them to get out of the battle for 6th/7th place.
I actually really like what Bielema is building with their program. They are a very physical, nasty team. Bielema clearly understands how to win in the SEC and in their program. I see a lot of similarities to how Mullen built our program, actually. He's improving the lines for them and recruiting blue collar guys who will make you hurt all over after playing them. Arkansas has always had plenty of big, physical OL and very good RBs. Building around that and minimizing the need for great QB and WR play is a no brainer. And honestly, I love watching that Big 10 smashmouth style with SEC athletes. I'm calling my shot on the Hogs: They'll win at least one SEC game this season. They are not that far away from being a threat. Like I kept saying about us, the gap from being a mid-level SECW team to an SECW contender is the gap from being a bowl team to a National Championship contender. It's not exactly a small step.
6. It did my soul good to see a low scoring defensive game. I don't think it's any big secret that I love offense. But as much as I love offense, I think the amount of scoring now is a bit ridiculous. All the rule changes, especially in the NFL, have really skewed the game in favor of the offense. And as we all know, those rules trickle down over time. When a WR goes across the middle, you ought to be able to clean his clock and put the fear of God into him. I don't want to see 17-10 every week, but man it was fun.
7. As I predicted, the game was a WAR in the trenches. Both teams are very good up front and aren't afraid of mixing it up. They both excel at working in the gray areas of the rules. Love watching that. Thankfully, the Dogs took over up front as the game progressed.
8. I know we won, and I normally try to avoid this topic, but the officiating crew was terrible. It almost felt like the SEC Office had sent them there to do a job on us at times. Go back and re-read about how badly Chris Jones was held without a call. And I'm still trying to figure out what MoJo did early in the game to draw a personal foul. Near as I could tell, it looked like a little bit of mutual shoving, but nothing major. Offsetting at worst if you're going to throw a flag. But there were two things that upset me more than anything else: 1) The no call when a Hog DL or LB slapped Dak's head while he was on the ground. An official was looking right at it when it happened, and no call. In the day and age of protecting QBs above all (Thanks, Tom Brady!), how is that NOT a flag? It was impossible to miss. 2) The crew spotted the ball at least a full yard back prior to our failed 4th down attempt. It happened right on front of me. Fred Ross was clearly within inches of the 21 and the first down. Then the crew runs in and spots it at the 22. Un-freaking-believable, except that it actually IS believable. Mike Pereira (sp?) ripped the SEC for its biased officiating practices a week ago, exposing what all of us who have watched for years already knew. Any hopes I had of the officiating crew not being out to job us in 2 weeks in Tuscaloosa are officially gone. We'll be playing 16 that day, so we better not be in a position where we need a call.
9. A win is a win and we'll roll into T-Town 9-0 in a game to decide the SEC West Championship. It's going to be an absolute war, and I cannot wait.
That's how I saw it. You know the drill. Fire in the hole!
In Mullen We Trust,